“The Mysterious Secret of Canada’s East Island Volcano”

Checking out the pitch for Unconventional Wealth's "Best Way to Cash In on the Global Diamond Grab"

The folks at Unconventional Wealth do make an effort to be, well, unconventional — over the years they’ve been pretty aggressive at pitching alternative investment ideas like stamps and other collectibles, but they also do pick the odd stock now and then.

And, of course, tease us about it until we feel compelled to find some answers. That’s really why your friendly neighborhood Stock Gumshoe sniffs through all these teaser pitches — because I don’t like not knowing stuff. The fact that the reality always turns out to be a bit less magical than the teased hype, meaning we can sometimes help folks to check their emotions at the door a little bit and make slower, more thoughtful investing decisions… well, that’s just a bonus.

This time around, it’s one of my favorite kind of teaser pitches — an Indiana Jones story about a surprising discovery in a remote corner of the world. Only this particular Indiana Jones apparently has a thing for strippers.

Here’s a taste of the pitch:

“On a tiny island 136 miles south of the Arctic Circle sits a mysterious $6.9 BILLION treasure.

“It’s called the East Island.

“And it’s so remote that you can reach it only by a single road built out of ice and crossing frozen lakes.

“But on this frozen island is a strange volcano that could fund your dream retirement… with more than enough money to leave a generous nest egg for your children or grandchildren….”

Sounds mysterious, right?

“The asset hidden inside this volcano is the ultimate symbol of affluence.

“It can be traced back thousands of years to its use as a religious icon in ancient India.

“Kings and queens have worn them.

“Even more countless millions of people have lusted over them.

“This resource can be found only in those few places where the geological characteristics are absolutely perfect.

“Consequently, they are rare. Extremely rare. And the world is running out of them… quickly.

“I’m talking about diamonds.

“And in addition to their use as jewelry and collectibles, diamonds have several industrial uses for which there is no substitute.”

So he’s talking about diamonds… and about the relatively recent discovery of diamond-bearing kimberlite formations in northern Canada that has led to the growth of a North American diamond industry.

“it’s 1,000 times RARER than gold!

“And getting scarcer with each passing day…

“In fact, it’s one of the last great remaining deposits of this resource on the entire planet.

“Yet 99% of investors don’t have the slightest clue about the existence of this mysterious volcano in Northern Canada.”

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Why diamonds? Well, they are periodically pitched as investment vehicles — because they’re extremely compact and largely untraceable and not necessarily manipulated as a financial instrument the way gold and silver are, and because there hasn’t yet been a new wave of the uber-wealthy to emerge that hasn’t wanted to impress us with its sparkly stuff (essentially, the same “shiny and traditional store of value” argument that’s made about gold … it has always been considered valuable by people, and that will continue).

Of course, diamonds have been manipulated just about every way you can imagine, too — starting with the De Beers cartel and the incredible marketing machine that turned diamond rings into the only possible way to create a loving marriage… and artificial diamonds are now impossible to distinguish from natural ones by most jewelers without specialized (De Beers-backed) equipment… to say nothing of the more recent issues with “blood diamonds” and “conflict diamonds” that fund wars (formerly in Angola and Sierra Leone, more recently in Ivory Coast, DR Congo and Liberia, etc) that may give Canadian diamond miners some edge.

So how does Ryan Coles think we should invest in diamonds? A miner. We finally get a to a few more clues about these northern mines to help us get a bit more specific for you…

“The rich spend a fortune to own diamonds. They’ve got to search for them, insure them, store them, secure and protect them.

“But the investment I’m talking about requires none of that.

“In fact, you can get started on this diamond investment with around $14… and never pay one thin dime in insurance or storage fees!

“And you can get all the details on how to grab your share of this booming $70 BILLION market in my newest report, ‘How an Ancient Volcano in Canada Could Build You a Legacy of Wealth.'”

And the hero of our story? That’s Chuck Fipke, Coles describes him here:

“How a Rogue Geologist Discovered a Diamond Treasure Trove in the Arctic

“Canada is the world’s third-largest producer of diamonds.

“But 22 years ago, there was no such thing as a Canadian diamond – as far as anyone knew….

“But all that changed thanks to a short, absentminded Canadian geologist named Chuck Fipke.

“He stutters when he talks. He frequently loses his glasses and his keys, shows up late to appointments, and has a history of spending obscene amounts of money in strip joints….

“After eight years of exploring the vast frozen land, and nearly down to his last dollar, he found a promising site a few hundred miles outside the Arctic Circle. It was a barren world of lakes and rock.

“And it was at this site that Fipke discovered the first Canadian diamonds ever. His stake in the diamond mine that was built there is worth $1 BILLION!

“Fipke’s discovery sparked the largest diamond rush in Canadian history.”

That was quite a few years ago, but it’s still a fun story — there was a profile of Kipke in Wired magazine five or six years ago that is probably the copywriter’s source on this stuff, should you wish to read up a bit more on him.

And is this mine that he discovered connected to the stock Unconventional Wealth thinks you should buy? Here are some more details from the ad:

“This ancient volcano in Canada holds one of richest diamond deposits in the entire world. And it’s been developed into one of the world’s richest diamond mines.

“The mine is so remote that the only time it is accessible by truck is in the dead of winter… when a 375-mile-long ice road crossing frozen lakes is open to traffic for just eight weeks.”

This is, in case you’re wondering, the road made famous by the “reality TV” show Ice Road Truckers back in 2007 and 2008. It serves mostly the diamond mines of the Northwest Territories, though there are certainly other ice roads in Canada and Alaska (and I think the show moved on to other locations after the first season).

There are a number of large miners operating in the area, along with some junior explorers looking for more diamonds (and gold). But specifically which stock is being teased? Some clues for you:

“I want to bring your attention to a small mining company that has a major ownership stake in this $6.9 billion deposit….

“… the mine recently underwent a major expansion, a move that will add up to 22 years to its mine life!

“This small miner recently acquired an 80% ownership stake in another one of Canada’s richest diamond mines.

“The same mine that was built from Fipke’s first discovery of diamonds in Canada….

“… these mines are capable of yielding as many as 10 million carats per year! That’s roughly $1.3 billion worth of diamonds.

“… it has a direct line to sell the diamonds in high-end jewelry stores around the world.

“In other words, there is no middleman to take a cut of the profits!”

And one more, final clue:

“This company currently trades for around $14 a share. But I don’t expect it to remain low for long…

“In a recent two-year span, shares of this company rose a whopping 780%.”

So who is it? This is Dominion Diamond (DDC), which is now roughly a $1 billion company that primarily owns shares of two diamond mines in Canada, Ekati and Diavik, and markets certified natural Canadian diamonds under the CanadaMark program. They own 40% of Diavik, which is the biggest diamond mine in Canada and is operated by Rio Tinto, and a varying (but majority) percentage in the different sections of Ekati, which was the first diamond mine in Canada and the one discovered by Fipke.

Dominion Diamond was formerly known as Harry Winston, but changed its name in recent years when it bought out BHP Billiton’s controlling stake in the Ekati mine (despite Fipke’s objections) and sold its Harry Winston luxury jewelry and watch business to Swatch… so now it’s really just a diamond producer and wholesaler. These mines are not currently projected to be very long-lived, neither has reserves to get them out ten years from here, but mining companies don’t always invest in proving up reserves before they have to and they do have a substantial amount of exploration territory where there might be lucrative new diamond-bearing kimberlite formations.

Dominion is expected by analysts to grow revenue to almost $900 million this year, and to book earnings of 45 cents per share before the revenue dips (but earnings grow a bit) next year. They have fallen short of analyst estimates most quarters, which is perhaps part of the reason that their shares have been fairly flat in recent years (and down quite a bit over the last couple months). DDC shares did indeed post that 700% gain from the very bottom of the financial crisis to their peak around $17 several years ago, but for the most part they’ve been bouncing around in a $10-15 range for five years.

If diamond prices do surge, you could certainly see these guys do quite well with their substantial current production — but if prices remain where they are and production stays kind of flat or even down a bit, it’s going to be hard for them to grow without spending a lot of money to expand and explore. They have plenty of cash right now, about $200 million (they made more from selling Harry Winston than they had to invest in buying control of Ekati), but they’re operating in a very expensive part of the world — from a glance at the annual numbers for their last year, which may well have been anomalous for all I know, it looks like their net profit margin for the actual operating business was down around 1% before taxes (they made a lot of money, $5 a share in reported profit, but that must have all been from selling Harry Winston).

So I don’t know whether they’ll make their projected 45-50 cents in earnings this year or not — that would give them a forward PE ratio of about 20 based on the current $12 share price (analysts are predicting 55 cents next year, though the range of estimates is very wide). I also have no idea what the value of natural Canadian diamonds will be in a decade, or where diamond prices are headed… though there’s also the very real climate concern, since in bad years (ie, warm years) the ice roads don’t remain passable for the full two months and the mines have to use planes more, driving costs up and sometimes delaying projects. There was an optimistic article posted on them by the StreetAuthority folks last month, and you can see their annual results here, including a brief summary of their expansion plans and their view of the diamond market, and last conference call transcript here.

Oh, and And then, well, you can make up your own mind. Want to own shares of Dominion Diamond? Let us know with a comment below.

P.S. You might remember that our mining columnist, Myron, was talking up diamonds last year as well — if you want to refresh your memory he was interested in VMS Ventures and Lucara, you can see that article here and his followup note from January here.


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